Saturday, September 20, 2008

September spells dragonflies

There has been a flood of dragonflies in Mumbai lately. Not just in the gardens, but every time I've gone out, clouds of dragonflies have been billowing over every road, ahead of all the traffic, and above it too.

It's wonderful watching them, though trying to track just one can soon get you a rubber neck and can send your head spinning out of control.

I had despaired of ever getting one to sit still long enough for me to photograph. They zip past and change direction so fast and so often that trying to follow them soon made me look like I was doing a lunatic's ballet.

I think they were teasing me and finally took pity on me, for a couple of them soon came and perched right next to me and didnt move a wing!

The one in the photo below even had a great sense of drama. He would sit on the spike of this dendrobium orchid, then fly up and resettle himself at a better angle on the same spike. He kept repeating this after every 3-4 minutes. I think he was making sure I got him from all his best angles. He didnt even mind my sticking my camera up so close to him.
What a star!

I've always been partial to dragonflies. They look so ethereal and yet have such comical faces that its quite an incongrous combination.

When we were children, it was a common game to gently hold a dragonfly by its wings and offer it a tiny pebble. Those stick-like legs would scramble and scoop up the pebble. The competition was to see how heavy a stone it could pick up.In retrospect, it seems pretty cruel but then, in those days, it made the dragonfly seem very special and 'ours'.

It was much later that I learnt what a clever mosquito hunter my friend the dragonfly is. He starts early, in his nymph avtar underwater. A total carnivore, Dragonfly Junior is as scary-looking as the adults are gorgeous. Another version of the Ugly Duckling, I think. I bet all those mosquito larvae and wrigglers in the water wished they could chase Junior away too. But there he remains, voraciously gulping them down with a king-size appetite.

The adult dragonfly is just as expert at cutting down the mosquito poulation. He forms his spiny, stick-like legs into a 'basket' and flies around, scooping them up in flight. And this is possibly why we've been seeing so many of them now in Mumbai.

Post-monsoon, the mosquito population has been spiralling out of control. My garden with all the big fruit trees offering large areas of deep shade, has become their favourite hang-out.
And guess who's ready for the feast? Well, I for one am really, really thankful to have these guys around.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Orchid time in Mumbai

(Den. Erasakul)

If you like orchids, then this is the best time to visit my garden in Mumbai. Almost all my Dendrobium orchids are either in bloom or in bud.

The cooler weather and moisture overdose during the monsoon season probably sets them off. After drooping and wilting through the scorching hot months of March to the beginning of June, they spring back exuberantly once the monsoons cool the air again. Within weeks, all the dendrobiums (or dends, as orchidists familiarly call them) start showing off fat little green spikes which will grow into some of the most mindblowing of Nature's creations.

Those fat little nubbins soon elongate and branch out into buds which soon give their first hint of the beauty to come !
Just look at these... they bring to mind a group of birds in flight, dont they?

Many growers struggle to get the dendrobium orchids to bloom for them but I've found that given plenty of light and a healthy dose of neglect, they're among the easiest plants to grow, especially in the tropics.

I grow all my dendrobiums outdoors, lightly shaded so that they're sheltered from the harsh sunrays between 10.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. but with plenty of light at other times. When I was new to growing dendrobium orchids, I kept them in deep shade and I got lovely dark green leaves but no flowers! Thats the indicator, you know...
Dark green leaves - too little light
Yellowish leaves - too much light
Apple-green leaves - light's just perfect

I had just finished photographing this dendrobium when I noticed that things were not as they should be. Can you spot what it is?

And this little garden spider found a cosy hideout. I bet the dendrobium is as pleased as can be with this arrangement. Goodbye nasty, petal-chomping bugs!